Beds will be turned over for coronavirus patients starting April 4, with completion planned April 24
While many convention centers across the country are having partitions erected inside as makeshift facilities to alleviate strain on local hospitals dealing with COVID-19 patients, Chicago's McCormick Place is being prepped to handle only those ill from the coronavirus.
"We are assuming that every patient in McCormick Place is COVID-19 positive, so it is being constructed as a COVID-19 positive alternate care facility," says Col. Aaron Reisinger, commander and district engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago Division, which is constructing the conversion in partnership with the Chicago Dept. of Public Health and design-build contractor Walsh Construction.
Reisinger said Halls A and C of North America's largest convention center will not change much, with cubicles constructed within them to become rooms for patients that have very low acuity of the virusâ€”meaning they do not require oxygen.
Spaces will be three-sided hard cubes with a curtain front, bed, chair and lamp, but there also will be nurse stations and nurse call capability.
Rooms will have typical shower or bathroom areas for privacy. The facility will accommodate those patients that were formerly recovering at home, but who require more monitoring, plus patients released from advanced respiratory care hospitals to recover and convalesce. Having these beds available will provide the city's health and hospital system an alternative place for patients at low risk if they can't yet be discharged.
The convention center is well suited for conversion because "there's an access point, where you have water, electric, sewage and IT" in the floors every 20 to 30 ft area on center, says Reisinger.
Hall C has 500 beds now available and will have another 500 by April 17. Hall A will open 1,250 beds by April 17.
Hall B requires more work for its 750 beds for moderate acute-care patients, with the Corps targeting April 24 to complete that area. "[These patients] do not require ventilation, they're not in an intensive care unit, and they're not being intubated, but they may require oxygen, and they may require oxygen on a continuous basis," Reisinger says. "They will be more prone to coughing, sneezing, vaporizing the virus. The virus is not an airborne virus, but it is contagious in respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes."
He adds that "the reason for putting these patients in negative air pressure is to protect the healthcare workers and maintain and isolate the density of the virus within that isolation pod. Each of those patients would be in a contained isolation unit with negative pressure, a HEPA filter system fan that exhausts to a central bank and then exhausts out of the hall itself."
Hall B's own air will be used as the supply air, but a system had to be created to pull the return air out of the the tented isolation pods and create negative pressure in the tents so that any contamination in the rooms can be filtered, and the air drawn out of the building instead of exhausted back into it. HEPA filters will purify anything that's coming out of a patient isolation pod. Each Hall B isolation pod will have in-line air to create steady air pressure and oxygen, medical air, power and light available, says Reisinger. Some mobile ventilators will be available, but if a patient's condition deteriorates, EMS services will be called to transport patients to a local hospital.
"We are bringing in our own medical gases," says Tom Caplis, vice president of healthcare at contractor Walsh Construction. "We have an oxygen tank farm that's coming here, all the medical gas piping for oxygen and to create the vacuum. A vacuum pump is being placed. There will be a headwall that's placed inside of each one of these tents. These patients [in Hall B] will be the highest acuity, so they will need oxygen" as well as a negative air-pressure environment.
Caplis said Walsh, the design team of Stantec and Environmental Systems Design and the USACE contemplated using bottled oxygen for patients that needed it, but did the calculations as to what a typical COVID-19 patient requires, and realized that bottles wouldn't be able to keep pace. A mobile oxygen tank farm is, instead, being placed on Hall B's loading dock with hard piping bringing it into the space independent of McCormick Place's existing systems.